Government

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The Port Jefferson Power Station may soon be repurposed. Photo by Alex Petroski

The Village of Port Jefferson is soon putting a lengthy legal battle with Long Island Power Authority in its rearview mirror, though the future of the property that houses Port Jefferson Power Station is still on the road ahead.

Bob Foxen, chief executive officer of Global Common LLC, a company dedicated to establishing energy partnerships and projects beneficial to its clients, was contracted by the village to study alternative future uses for the site. He presented options to the village board of trustees during a brainstorming session at a public meeting Sept. 17.

“I guess the goal is to try, to the degree possible, to make the people of Port Jefferson whole, or close to whole, assuming they lose some tax revenue,” Foxen said during his presentation.

Village Mayor Margot Garant expressed an interest for the village to formulate a plan of action for the site.

“Once we have our tax grievance settlement behind us, or we know that we’re at kind of a pause, the next question is ‘Now what?’” she said. “We want to advocate for a repurposing of the site to keep us viable on the grid.”

The village is among the municipalities preparing to imminently announce settlement terms with LIPA to resolve near-decade-long litigation regarding the property tax assessment of the plant, which the utility has argued is too high based on decreasing energy demand. Port Jeff has advocated for the refurbishment and repowering of its baseload plant to update its decades-old technology and to justify the property’s tax assessment.

By 2027, the power purchase agreement between LIPA and National Grid expires, and to resolve the tax certiorari challenges, LIPA negotiated with the village a nine-year “glide path” for tax revenue reductions to coincide with the agreement expiration, according to village attorney Brian Egan. The glide path includes gradual percentage reductions in assessed valuation on the property, deeming baseload repowering an unlikely future outcome. In addition, Caithness Energy LLC’s 2014 plans to construct a new 600-megawatt plant in Yaphank were revived temporarily by Town of Brookhaven’s town board this past summer, though the expiration of the company’s special-use permit for the site has put the plans back in doubt. If constructed, the Yaphank plant would further cloud the future of the Port Jeff plant.

Foxen admitted the options he brought ready to present during the meeting were dependent on Caithness II never getting off the ground, an outcome that is very much in doubt. The options also consider New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) stated goal from 2016 that 50 percent of the state’s power come from renewable sources by 2030.

The consultant suggested turning the site into a 200- to 300-megawatt plant powered by peaking units or smaller energy generation systems capable of firing up only in times of high demand, as its best option. The units operate using gas or liquid fuel, though they are viewed as efficient supplements to renewable energy sources like wind and solar, which can’t handle demand on their own.

“I think it does help support renewables,” Foxen said of peaking unit plants, adding that financing the work needed to repurpose the site in this way would be hard to establish without a new power purchasing agreement with LIPA. Village officials are set to meet Sept. 20 with representatives from private Finnish company Wartsila to discuss the feasibility of installing peaking unit technology at the Port Jeff plant.

Foxen’s other brainstormed options included establishing the village as a municipal electrical utility, meaning it would assume control of energy distribution from the plant to customers to power homes, though he called the option costly and time consuming; and taking over energy distribution and limiting it to private customers at a reduced rate for businesses in specific industries that have high-energy demand, like data storage centers, for example, which could even be housed on the vacant site.

“It would be kind of an interesting magnet for a data center or somebody like that — saving money on energy might be a draw,” Foxen said.

Incumbent New York State Assembly 2nd District Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo speaks at TBR News Media during the 2014 election cycle. File photo by Elana Glowatz

After a Republican primary characterized by a challenger’s legal battle, the status quo prevailed in New York’s 2nd state Assembly District Sept. 13.

Two-term incumbent Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) defeated challenger Mike Yacubich, a Shoreham resident and chief of the Rocky Point Fire Department, to earn a spot on the general election ballot in November. Palumbo secured more than 80 percent of the vote, with 2,740 registered Republicans in the district casting their ballots for the incumbent to just 641 for the challenger.

“Thank you to all of the friends, supporters, staff, volunteers and especially family who sacrificed the summer to get this done,” Palumbo said in a post on his campaign Facebook page. He did not respond to a request for comment sent to his campaign email. “I’m humbled by the tremendous turnout and the results last night are a reflection of your hard work and support. It’s an honor to serve you and we are on to the November general election.”

Yacubich’s effort to challenge Palumbo wasn’t without a dose of intrigue. Judges from the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division ruled in his favor Aug. 24 allowing his name to appear on the Sept. 13 ballot following challenges to his petition signatures raised by three citizen objectors from the district concerned two Mike Yacubichs were registered to vote at the same Shoreham address — both the candidate and his 25-year-old son.

The objectors argued that since the father and son are registered to vote at the same address, those who signed the petition approving the elder Yacubich as a political candidate couldn’t have distinguished between he and his son, who also goes by Mike. The argument was heard by the Republican and Democratic commissioners of the Suffolk County Board of Elections — Nick LaLota and Anita Katz, respectively — who brought the case to the Suffolk County Supreme Court. The lower court initially ruled against Yacubich, who then appealed and won to restore his name to the ballot. The appeals court judges ruled the board of elections “exceeded its authority,” in disallowing Yacubich’s signatures, finding no proof of any intention to confuse voters.

“We fought hard and put a lot of time and effort into an election process that clearly does not welcome outsiders,” Yacubich wrote in a Facebook post. “I can only hope we shed some light on an election system that could certainly use some changes, and I hope that some good will come from us expressing our frustrations with our elected officials.”

Palumbo, who won a special election in 2013 to assume the seat he has held for two official terms following campaign victories in 2014 and 2016, will now turn his attention to Democrat Rona Smith, who he will meet in the Nov. 6 general election. Smith is a Southold resident who currently serves as chair of Southold’s Housing Advisory Commission, sits on the town’s Economic Development Committee, and is vice chair of the Southold Local Development Corporation.

“Now we move forward with real issues that are important to constituents,” Smith said in a phone interview following the primary. “It’s about coming out and saying what you believe in, what you stand for and if that connects to the constituents.”

Candidates to meet again on the ballot in November

Theresa Whelan and Tara Scully discuss their Democratic primary race, which takes place Sept. 13, during an exclusive interview at TBR News Media in Setauket Sept. 6. Photos by Kyle Barr

Their first race is in the books, but the more important one is yet to come.

Family Court Judge Theresa Whelan defeated attorney Tara Scully in the Democratic primary Sept. 13 to secure a spot on the November ballot in the race to preside over Suffolk County’s Surrogate’s Court. Whelan received nearly 65 percent of the vote, besting Scully 38,674 to 21,040 votes.

“Last night was a great victory for Democrats,” Whelan said in a statement Sept. 14. “I want to thank the voters of Suffolk County and Democratic Chairman Rich Schaffer for having confidence in me and my credentials. I’m looking forward to presenting my 10 years of judicial experience and 30 years of courtroom experience to the voters in November.”

“Last night was a great victory for Democrats.”

— Theresa Whelan

A spokesperson for Scully’s campaign characterized the primary result as a win for the candidate.

“Tara scored her first victory in July, when her entrance into the race forced party leaders to scrap their plan to make a Conservative the candidate of the Democratic Party and scurry to find a Plan B,” campaign spokesman James Walsh said in a statement. “Today, more than 21,000 Democrats who voted to make Tara the candidate of their party sent a clear message to the party bosses that they are fed up with cross-endorsement deals. Tara is still the only candidate for Surrogate nominated by the people. No other candidate gathered a single signature to get into the race. We are confident that she will have broad support across party lines in the General Election.”

The nearly 60,000 voters in the closed primary represented a significant turnout jump from the last time Democrats went to the polls. On June 26, a little more than 32,000 Suffolk County residents registered as Democrats voted in Congressional primaries for the 1st and 2nd districts combined, though the Sept. 13 primary also featured New York gubernatorial, lieutenant governor and attorney general candidates.

“Today, more than 21,000 Democrats who voted to make Tara the candidate of their party sent a clear message to the party bosses that they are fed up with cross-endorsement deals.”

— James Walsh

The Surrogate’s Court race came under scrutiny after Newsday ran an editorial publicizing the political patronage and cross-endorsement agreements that highlighted the race. Newsday reported earlier this year District Court Judge Marian Rose Tinari, who is married to Suffolk’s Conservative Party Chairman Frank Tinari, and is a Conservative herself, had secured the Democratic Party line in the Surrogate’s Court race as a result of a deal with Suffolk Democratic Committee Chairman Rich Schaffer.
As a result, Scully said she gathered enough petitions to run on both Democratic and Republican lines in July to offer voters an alternative. When presented with Scully as a primary challenger, Tinari dropped out. The Democratic Party then nominated Whelan, who calls herself a life-long Democrat.

Despite Thursday’s primary defeat, Scully has secured the Republican Party line in the race for Surrogate’s court and will face off Whelan again at the polls in less than two months.

Judge John Czygier Jr., who currently oversees the county’s Surrogate’s Court, is nearing the mandatory retirement age, leaving a vacancy Scully and Whelan are competing to fill. The position, which yields a salary in excess of $200,000, carries a 10-year term, and the occupant may serve until age 70.

Surrogate’s Court is responsible for handling all issues involving wills and the estates of people who die. The court also handles guardianship hearings and some adoption cases for children whose parents are deceased. Each of New York state’s 62 counties has one surrogate judge except New York and Kings counties, which have two each.

This post was updated Sept. 18.

Three Village Civic Association held a forum Sept. 4 during which Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, Rich Johannesen, Mary Ann Johnston and Anthony Figliola weighed in on an upcoming referendum in Brookhaven. Photo by Alex Petroski

Brookhaven Town has taken steps to change laws pertaining to terms of office for elected officials, but civically minded citizens are discussing it before jumping on board just yet. The Three Village Civic Association hosted a forum Sept. 4 at Emma S. Clark Memorial Library featuring four experts to discuss the proposal, which will appear on November’s ballot in the form of a referendum to be passed or failed by Brookhaven voters. Audience members came from as far afield as Medford and Patchogue.

The speakers included 1st District Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station); Rich Johannesen, a veteran of local politics considered an expert in governmental workings, who helped lead a citizens initiative to establish council districts in the town more than 15 years ago; MaryAnn Johnston, president of the Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organizations who also has seen more than her fair share of political races and policy discussions; and Anthony Figliola, former Brookhaven deputy supervisor and vice president of Empire Government Strategies, a company that provides strategic counsel on governmental relations and practices to municipalities.

Brookhaven’s board voted unanimously Aug. 2 to establish a referendum on the ballot Nov. 6 asking town residents to weigh in on changes to terms in office for elected officials, specifically increasing terms from two years, as is currently the law, to four years for councilmembers, the supervisor and highway superintendent, which would put it on par with the other Suffolk townships. The referendum will have a second component as part of the same, single “yea” or “nay” question: limiting officials to three terms in office. That component would impact the above positions, as well as town clerk and receiver of taxes. Both components will appear as part of a single proposition, according to Town Attorney Annette Eaderesto. If passed the law would go into effect for terms beginning Jan. 1, 2020.

In 1993, residents voted to implement a limit of three terms of four years each on elected officials, though that law was no longer applicable following a 2002 public vote to establish council districts since state law dictates councilmembers in towns with council districts serve two-year terms, according to Emily Pines, Romaine’s chief of staff and a former New York State Supreme Court justice, who spoke during the Aug. 2 town hearing.

Some of the speakers at the Sept. 4 civic forum took issue with Brookhaven’s interpretation that the law of the town isn’t already limiting elected officials to serving three terms, calling on politicians to solicit an opinion from the state attorney general. Others pointed to language which could allow sitting board members to start their term clocks afresh, despite having served several terms already on the board, as particularly objectionable. Some suggested the referendum felt rushed saying, waiting a year would ensure full community awareness about the town’s intentions.

Below are some of the comments from the civic association’s invited guests in a session moderated by the civic’s Herb Mones:

Johannesen: “I’m going to be very clear — I oppose four-year terms. The longer we allow elected officials to serve without putting them before us, the more likely it is that they are going to become corrupt. I think if you look at the history of corruption in this town and you look at the history of corruption in this county, one of the reasons why our elected officials have gone south is because there were no checks and balances. There hasn’t really been the kind of political diversity we were hoping for.”

Johnston: “The founders thought it was good enough for our congressmen to be two years; the state constitution provides for our assemblymen and our senators to be two years. And if the problem is raising funds for political campaigns, then the issue isn’t the length of term, because we have no guarantee they’ll ever stop raising funds and do it continually for four years. This is what the voters want: We chose councilmatic districts and the Town of Brookhaven fought us tooth and nail all the way down the line. And now they’re telling us that the 1993 referendum that we enacted was repealed by council districts. That’s not true. We already have term limits. It can’t be repealed by implication.”

Figliola: “To be perfectly candid, whether it’s two years or four years, you can’t legislate human conduct. So, if people are going to be corrupt, they’re going to be corrupt. I think that’s what prosecutors are for. It’s very hard to get elected if you’re a challenger unless it’s an open seat. It’s possible … but it’s difficult. That doesn’t have anything to do with corruption. I believe term limits can help, they can’t completely stop it, but can help because it will open up an opportunity for citizen legislators to be able to run. What this will do is, this will say ‘you have consecutively or nonconsecutively three four-year terms and then you’re out.’”

Cartright: “As you all know, two town board meetings ago, I voted in support of putting this on the ballot for a vote. This has been something that me and my colleagues have been discussing for quite some time — at least four years or so. I think this is an important discussion that needs to be had. Am I advocating one or another? I am not. I understand both sides. My personal opinion is that for good governance, I do think that four years would be better than two years, based on my experiences.”

Scully and Whelan face off in Democratic Primary Sept. 13, but they could meet again in the general election

Theresa Whelan and Tara Scully discuss their Democratic primary race, which takes place Sept. 13, during an exclusive interview at TBR News Media in Setauket Sept. 6. Photos by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr and Alex Petroski

Political races for local judgeships don’t tend to garner much attention, but the 2018 race to preside over Suffolk County’s Surrogate’s Court is breaking the mold.

Judge John Czygier Jr., who currently oversees the county’s Surrogate’s Court, is nearing the mandatory retirement age, leaving a vacancy candidates Tara Scully and Theresa Whelan are competing to fill. The position, which yields a salary in excess of $200,000, carries a 10-year term, and the occupant may serve until age 70. The candidates face off in the Democratic primary Sept. 13 for the party line in the general election.

The situation has drawn criticism far and wide, largely on the practice of cross-party endorsement deals. The candidates sat down Sept. 6 for an exclusive interview with TBR News Media’s editorial staff to set the record straight.

What is Surrogate’s Court?

Surrogate’s Court is responsible for handling all issues involving wills and the estates of people who die. The court also handles guardianship hearings and some adoption cases for children whose parents are deceased. Each of New York state’s 62 counties has one surrogate judge except New York and Kings counties, which have two each. The court’s rulings can involve large amounts of money, making it uniquely susceptible to political patronage.

Scully and Whelan both said they have the utmost respect for Czygier and seek to continue his legacy and practices.

“Surrogate’s Court is there to help families when they can’t really help themselves,” Whelan said. “It has to be fair.”

Scully stressed the importance of having empathy in Surrogate’s Court.

“It’s a sanctuary and it needs to be treated like that,” she said. “People there are dealing with extremely difficult issues.”

Family Court Judge Whelan vies for nod

“I thought that it was important that an actual Democrat represented the Democratic Party in this race.”

— Theresa Whelan

Whelan, 56, a Wading River resident, said she is throwing her hat into the ring for the Democratic nomination because of her qualifications and experience.

“I have the bench experience,” Whelan, a registered Democrat, said. “I thought that it was important that an actual Democrat represented the Democratic Party in this race.”

The nominee took the bench in Suffolk County Family Court in 2008, before becoming the supervising judge in 2016. There, she hears primarily abuse and neglect cases. Her responsibilities include overseeing nine judges and seven support magistrates in two courthouses.

“I have assisted hundreds, if not thousands of children to be successfully reunited with their parents,” Whelan said. “And if that’s not possible, we try to find them another loving option.”

Since 2009, Whelan has led Suffolk County’s Child Welfare Court Improvement Project, an initiative to address court practices when a child is removed from a parent’s care while trying to ensure their safety and well-being.

The nominee said she is an active member of the Suffolk County Bar Association and often lectures for them. She co-chaired Suffolk’s Family Court & Matrimonial Law committee for three years and is a former president of the Suffolk County Women’s Bar Association. Whelan’s husband, Thomas, is also a judge, currently serving as a Suffolk County Supreme Court justice.

Despite current calls for an end to party patronage, Whelan said the position she’s running for is not a tool to fix the political system. She hopes to win on her own merits.

“I have support of statewide judges, the chief judge, the administrative judge, the bar association, etc. [in my roll on the Family Court],” the nominee said. “I stand here as my own candidate.”

Scully cites her experience in elder law

Scully, 41, of Setauket, said she’s seeking the Democratic nomination after calls by Newsday and other elected officials to challenge the patronage system affecting this and other judicial races.

A registered Republican, she pointed to her years working in elder law as part of the experience she can bring to the Surrogate’s bench.

“I do recognize I have an uphill battle,” Scully said. “But I love the Surrogate’s Court, and I believe the sanctity of our courts has to be preserved.”

Scully started her career working in the executive chamber of former New York State Gov. George Pataki (R), before serving as counsel in guardianship proceedings for the state’s Appellate Division’s Mental Hygiene Legal Service. Like Whelan, she also is a former president of the Suffolk County Women’s Bar Association.

Scully began her Port Jefferson-based practice in 2011 focusing on elder law. She said she has extensive experience in estate planning and administration, asset protection and guardianship proceedings, all of which she said would be important knowledge for Surrogate’s Court. Like Whelan, Scully also has political connections in the family as her father, Peter Scully, has name recognition in Suffolk County. He previously served as the regional chief for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and currently works as one of County Executive Steve Bellone’s (D) deputies.

Tara Scully said she often provides free legal representation for indigent seniors, veterans and those with disabilities.

“I have a poor business sense in the amount of pro bono work I take on,” Scully said.

In 2015, Scully ran for Brookhaven Town District Court judge where she said she saw firsthand the way party patronage has entwined itself with politics after turning down a cross-endorsement deal. She lost by 173 votes.

“I was so green I didn’t realize at the point that in many circumstances it was business as usual,” Scully said. “I think a lot of people were upset with me that my gut reaction was revulsion.”

Political backstory

“Cross-endorsement deals are dictating who our judicial choices are, and the voter is unaware an individual without political backing, without a political upbringing or allegiance to political parties is never going to take the bench.”

— Tara Scully

Although judges are expected to set aside their personal beliefs, politics has marred the race, though not necessarily thanks to the candidates themselves. Neither Whelan nor Scully were involved in this race as of early summer. Newsday reported earlier this year District Court Judge Marian Rose Tinari, who is married to Conservative Party chairman, Frank Tinari, and is a Conservative herself, had secured the Democratic Party line in the Surrogate’s Court race as a result of a deal with Suffolk Democratic Party chairman, Rich Schaffer, which was one of many similar deals between Suffolk party bosses.

In June, Newsday ran an editorial in the form of a want ad, calling for a candidate “with a backbone to resist pressure from political bosses,” in response to the cross-endorsement of Tinari. Scully said she sprang into action as a result of the editorial to meet a tight deadline, and garnered enough signatures to run as both a Democrat and Republican. With a primary challenger stepping up to the plate, Tinari withdrew. Democrats then selected Whelan, who called herself a lifelong Democrat, as their candidate.

Scully has argued her decision to enter the Democratic primary — despite being a registered Republican — has provided voters with a more transparent choice than if a Conservative had remained on the Democrat line.

“I think the real point is six weeks ago, eight weeks ago, the Democrat candidate was a Conservative, and Democrats would go in and vote and not have any idea that the individual they’re voting for is not in line with their party philosophies,” Scully said. “Cross-endorsement deals are dictating who our judicial choices are, and the voter is unaware an individual without political backing, without a political upbringing or allegiance to political parties is never going to take the bench.”

Whelan argued that voters are equally in the dark with a Republican in a Democratic primary. If she loses Thursday, there will be one name occupying both major party’s lines come November, as Scully has already been penciled onto the ballot by the Republican Party. Whelan joked when voters enter booths Sept. 13 they’ll simply be deciding between two Irish last names with little knowledge of the politics. She also took issue with Scully portraying herself as “standing up for Democratic principles” on her campaign site.

“If I don’t win the primary, voters don’t have a choice, and I think that’s fair to say,” Whelan said. “I’m presenting myself as a Democratic Party member and the experienced judge, so that Tara and I can actually have a real election on Election Day, and I think that’s what she was trying to accomplish in the beginning.”

This post was updated Sept. 11. This post was updated Sept. 12 to clarify a quote from Whelan.

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Poquott residents are protesting the village board trustees approving a 5-year bond for a community dock. File photo

Plans to build a community dock continue to cause waves in the Village of Poquott.

Approximately two dozen Poquott residents rallied Aug. 25 on Route 25A in East Setauket to protest the village trustees’ decision to rescind a resolution for a 10-year bond to pay for construction of a village dock in favor of a five-year bond.

“Hopefully, we are at a point we can actually build the dock.”

— Jeff Koppelson

The protesters have been against the dock’s construction for nearly a decade.

The mayor and trustees called an emergency meeting Aug. 23 after more than 200 residents signed a petition requesting a referendum vote on the dock plans. In July, the board voted for a 10-year bond instead of their original plan for a five-year note after tabling the decision earlier in the year when bids came in higher than predicted. The original plans were estimated to cost $150,000 but did not include Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant ramps. The new cost of the dock will be approximately $255,000.

In an email to residents after the Aug. 23 vote, Mayor Dee Parrish explained the reasons for the change from a 10-year to a 5-year bond noting the construction of a dock had been “a known work in progress since 2010.” She said residents were first sent a survey in 2010, and the village mailed out two additional surveys in following years. The majority of village residents answered they were in favor of a community dock, according to the mayor, which will be built in California Park at the end of Washington Street and will measure 128 feet by 4 feet. The board of trustees officially began planning efforts in 2015.

“The dock plan was in forward motion since then and the decision we faced was not whether or not to put it to a vote, but rather how to pay for the construction,” Parrish wrote. “The recent petition for referendum was challenged, and the village attorney recommended that the five-year bond would ensure that project move[s] forward as originally planned by the board.”

Trustee Jeff Koppelson said the board had considered a 10-year bond to reduce the annual cost to Poquott residents, but once they became aware of the petition for a referendum, moved forward with the original five-year plan.

John Richardson, a village trustee who ran for mayor this year, said the village attorney informed him the residents would not be able to request a referendum given the five-year bond, and he voted “nay” for the new payment plan. Under New York State law, a request for a referendum would be allowed with a 10-year bond.

“Hopefully, we are at a point we can actually build the dock,” Koppelson said.

“I’m representing what people want. If they’re paying for it, they should have a say in it.”

— John Richardson

Richardson said he is concerned because the bond was not put out for a bid, and he believes residents should be able to vote on whether or not they wanted a dock and how to pay for it. He also said the feedback he has received from residents is that they are worried about maintenance and insurance costs.

“I’m representing what people want,” Richardson said. “If they’re paying for it, they should have a say in it.”

Felicia Chillak, who ran for trustee this year, went door to door with others to collect signatures for the petition requesting a referendum. She said the residents who signed were a mixture of those who wanted a community dock and those who didn’t, but all believe it should be voted on. Chillak said she had 30 days after the July 19 board meeting to turn the signatures into the village clerk, and as of Aug. 16 the petition had 196 names. She was then notified by the state Comptroller’s Office due to Aug. 18 falling on a Saturday, she could submit the paperwork by Aug. 20.

Chillak then presented the village clerk with an amended petition with 207 signatures. She said the petition needed the signatures of more than 20 percent of Poquott voters, and a recent voter registration list from the Suffolk County Board of Election that she obtained lists 802 registered voters reside in the village. However, at the Aug. 23 meeting, Village Attorney Joseph Prokop questioned the validity of some signatures.

Chillak said some people were hesitant to sign the petition or participate in the Aug. 25 rally.

“This is a serious issue in this village,” she said. “Even when we were getting petitions signed, residents were afraid of the mayor seeing their signature in fear of retribution.”

According to Parrish’s email, village officials and residents have organized multiple community events, including the Poquott Community Association’s Lobster Bake, with the intent to raise money for the dock. To date, $20,000 has been raised. The village also acquired three floating docks valued at $16,000 at no cost. Parrish said an average household will see a $123.20 a year increase in their taxes to pay off the five-year bond.

A left-turn arrow will be installed at the intersection of Route 25A and County Road 21 in Rocky Point for safety reasons. Photo by Kyle Barr

The accident-prone intersection of Route 25A and County Road 21 in Rocky Point could be getting a new traffic light that local officials hope will curb injuries and fatalities.

“In response to community interest, the New York State Department of Transportation will update the traffic signal at Route 25A and County Road 21 with a protected left turn indicated by a green arrow phase for vehicles turning left from eastbound Route 25A onto northbound [Hallock Landing Road],” said Stephen Canzoneri, public information officer for the regional DOT office that covers Suffolk County. “This is being done following an extensive review of the intersection and will reflect the traffic pattern for westbound Route 25A.”

Canzoneri said that a new left-turn signal will be installed by the state DOT in September. A protected turning light allows drivers in the turning lane to strictly take a left while other drivers going straight are stopped at a red light. Westbound Route 25A already has a protected turning light.

Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said the intersection has a long history of vehicular incidents over the years. The best way to avoid problems there, she said, was to avoid making left turns onto Route 25A or Hallock Landing Road.

“That’s a very busy intersection, and there’s a lot going on there,” Bonner said. “People need to drive defensively and plan their routes so they don’t have to make a left.”

Bonner has been in contact with state DOT officials and they have sent surveyors out since 2017 to analyze the dangers of the intersection, she said.

The intersection at the corner of Route 25A and Rocky Point Yaphank Road, as Route 21 is also known, is a notoriously dangerous intersection with new accidents reported every year, some of which have caused fatalities, such as the death of Rocky Point resident Carol Sardegna in September 2016. One recent crash occurred Aug. 15 at the intersection, according to the Rocky Point Watch Facebook page.

The state DOT said it would not install a left-turn arrow northbound and southbound on County Road 21 because it would reduce time for vehicles on both roads, according to a state DOT letter received by Bonner. The letter also said the state department plans to relocate the east and southbound STOP bar pavement markings and upgrade the County Road 21 crosswalks to be more visible.

Bonner said she believes the turn signal should help reduce accidents at the intersection.

“People by law will only be able to make a left when you can,” Bonner said. “It doesn’t mean people still won’t try to do it, but I feel confident more people obey turning signals than not.”

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini speaks at an event in Huntington Station. File photo by Victoria Espinoza.

Suffolk County now has a new drug program that judges and prosecutors hope will offer nonviolent offenders a means to get clean before they repeat offenses.

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D) along with several drug court judges announced Aug. 13 the creation of the new Comprehensive Addiction Recovery and Education Program that will allow people charged with low-level drug crimes to instead be sent into a drug treatment program rather than being matriculated through the standard legal system. If the participants finish the program clean, they are promised the charges will be dismissed.

“We consistently heard that in some cases requiring defendants to take a plea prior to accepting treatment is a disincentive [to seek court treatment options],” Sini said at the press conference. “By connecting these individuals to treatment, we will not only be helping to tackle the disease of addiction … we will also be improving public safety by addressing the underlying motivation to commit crimes fueled by drug abuse.”

Those charged with misdemeanor drug crimes can participate in the program without having to enter a guilty plea. Those who sign up for the program work with members of court staff to develop a treatment plan and determine what services will be available. The program lasts for 90 days, but the person involved in the program can ask for a longer term.

“It should result in increased numbers who receive the benefit of treatment given the crisis that we’re facing both locally and nationally,” Suffolk County District Administrative Judge Randall Hinrichs said.

What makes the program remarkable, according to Karen Kerr, the supervising judge of Suffolk County District Court, is that without having to plead guilty more people will be more willing to participate.

“For many people, particularly those people with minimal to no record, it was just too much of a risk for them to take [the plea],” Kerr said. “I felt there was a group of people who really could use the help but who just didn’t want to take the chance.”

The timing for this program comes as the numbers of opioid-related deaths have peaked in the past two years. Suffolk Chief Medical Examiner Michael Caplan said in June the office has data on approximately 360 county deaths from opioid overdoses in 2017. The office is expecting a decline in the number of deaths this year by more than 100, but officials won’t know the results until they compile all data at the end of the year.

The program is open to defendants who have minimal or no criminal record and who have no history of violence or gang involvement. Those charged with misdemeanors of petit larceny, criminal possession of marijuana, criminal possession of a controlled substance, criminal trespass, criminal possession of hypodermic instrument, criminal use of drug paraphernalia, disorderly conduct or loitering are eligible for the program as long as the drug court determines they are addicted to any kind of hard drug.

Kerr said that the district attorney determines whether a person should be screened for a drug problem and then the person is referred to the CARE court date, always held on Tuesdays, and then the court treatment team will ask a number of questions to determine if there is an issue.

Officials said they expect many people to be eligible for the CARE program. District attorney spokeswoman Sheila Kelly said the office noted from April to June of this year approximately 600 people would have fit the criteria to be allowed to enter into the program.

Violations of the program include being arrested on new charges, not participating in the treatment program as recommended or not reporting to scheduled court appearances. Participants are drug tested prior to finishing the program.

Hinrichs said the court and the DA’s office will be monitoring the program to see results and identify its efficacy and inclusiveness.

A view of the southern side of The Shipyard apartment building. File photo by Alex Petroski

Some things in life are priceless, but Port Jefferson Village has settled on what’s an appropriate cost for not providing green space when new developments are built.

The village board passed a resolution Aug. 20 reducing the fee levied on developer Tritec, who constructed The Shipyard at Port Jefferson Harbor, for not including sufficient public green space in the apartment complex. It establishes a new precedent for future developments that private parkland can be used to satisfy village’s green space requirements — at least in some small part — as determined on a case-by-case basis.

As a condition of the site plan approval granted for the 112-apartment complex on West Broadway, Port Jefferson’s Department of Building and Planning had required that Tritec be responsible for paying a parkland fee.

Alison LaPointe, special village attorney for building and planning, said a parkland fee is commonly imposed by municipalities. Town of Brookhaven utilizes a multiplier formula that requires 1,500 square feet of public green space per unit in a housing development or $1,000 fine per unit if that space can’t be provided.

The fee is intended to require real estate developers to consider preserving or creating green and recreational spaces when building large complexes. It has been imposed on other projects in the village, like The Hills at Port Jefferson, built by The Gitto Group, on Texaco Avenue. The Gitto Group, rather than paying a fee or including public parkland on its property, invested in renovations to a nearby, village-owned park on Texaco Avenue to satisfy village code requirements.

The issue has been unresolved pertaining to The Shipyard, according to LaPointe, as village attorney Brian Egan has been corresponding with Tritec Vice President Rob Kent to determine if private recreation areas provided for tenants of The Shipyard could qualify to satisfy some of its requirement. The Shipyard offers a rooftop recreational space and a ground-level plaza area for its tenants, which LaPointe and staff from the town’s building and planning department ruled could satisfy the parkland requirement for about 21 of the complex’s 112 units based on square footage.

“In the past we have utilized the Town of Brookhaven’s [formula] as they have a multiplier — either 1,500 square feet per unit or $1,000 per unit,” she said. “The square footage I don’t really have a problem with. I believe that $1,000 is a relatively antiquated number in this day and age. You can’t really buy 1,500 square feet of anything for $1,000. Our multiplier that was proposed was $1,500, so not a massive increase. And again, our calculations came down to that they provided enough green space for a portion of their 112 units, but still did not have parkland for the remaining 91, which results in a fee of about $136,500 in parkland.”

The Aug. 20 resolution effectively set a $1,500 fee per square foot of green space not provided. Trustee Bruce Miller was the lone village board member opposed to the resolution.

“I am appalled at this,” he said. “We are taking recreational space that every luxury apartment has to provide if they’re going to attract tenants and we’re dedicating that to the specific use of the tenants only and we’re calling that public space or green space. It’s not public space.”

Village Mayor Margot Garant disagreed with Miller.

“I think it’s appropriate to give a credit because you also want to encourage these [developers] to build nice places that have the amenities, that have certain areas that are green space, that are attributable to the living area,” she said.

A spokesperson for Tritec did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Brookhaven unveiled new electric vehicle charging stations at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai Aug. 21. Photo by Alex Petroski

Brookhaven Town is hoping to inspire residents to ditch the gas pump for a greener alternative.

The town unveiled two new electric vehicle charging stations at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai Aug. 21, paid for through a grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and rebates from Long Island Power Authority. The stations cost $22,000 each, and Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) pledged that the town will install additional charging stations at various, strategically located town facilities during the next year, either through grants or using town funds. Members of the public with electric or hybrid vehicles are permitted to utilize the stations for a minimal charge, according to Romaine, just to cover the cost of the electricity.  The two stations can combine to give juice to four cars at a time.

“There’s a societal benefit in that these cars don’t produce smog, or pollution or hydrocarbons,” Romaine said. “The air quality on Long Island has consistently been rated as very poor. This is an opportunity for us to try to convince people who are thinking about electric to go electric.”

Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner, Supervisor Ed Romaine, and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright unveil new electric vehicle charging stations at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai Aug. 21. Photo by Alex Petroski

Romaine said the town currently owns one fully electric vehicle and about five hybrids in its fleet, and added the plan is to replace “aged out” high mileage cars with more hybrids and full electric vehicles during the coming year.

“I can’t tell you how excited and proud I am that these charging stations are in my council district in Mount Sinai at the Heritage Park,” Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said. “Very often, in deciding to make that move in that direction you have to think in your mind, ‘Well where can I charge my car?’ If these are centrally located in convenient places, it’s a win for the consumer and it’s a win for the environment and the residents that live here.”

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), who represents the neighboring 1st District, said she was proud to join her colleagues in the unveiling Tuesday.

“This is clearly a step in the right direction for the Town of Brookhaven as we move to reduce our emissions here in the town,” she said.

Similar stations to the ones placed at Heritage Park already exist at Moriches Bay Recreation Center and the town Parks Administration building in Centereach. The installs are part of a five-year capital plan spearheaded by Romaine called the Energy Efficiency and Sustainability Initiative, aimed to achieve a 50 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the town by 2020.

“We want to encourage the use of hybrids and electric vehicles,” the supervisor said.

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